2023 MBA To Watch: Lais Giardullo Bernardes, IESE Business School

Lais Giardullo Bernardes

IESE Business School

“Mother, wife and entrepreneur determined to leave a positive impact on society.”

Hometown: São Paulo, SP – Brazil

Fun fact about yourself: I was already 6 months pregnant when I started the MBA, so now I am a Brazilian with a Catalan daughter!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of São Paulo (USP) – Computer Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Maraé (Guilherme Leal’s Family office) and McKinsey & Company

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? I started my startup (+Justo) in IESE’s initiative “Summer Entrepreneurship Experience”.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will keep working at +Justo as founder and CEO.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • VP of sustainable finance at Responsible Business Club
  • VP of impact at IESE’s Impact Fund
  • Organizer of Family Enrichment Program
  • Forté Fellows/IESE Excellence/Social Impact Scholarship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

Of my academic achievements, I am most proud of the result of “Summer Entrepreneurship Experience (SEE)”. I launched +Justo, my current startup, which addresses a significant issue in Brazil. Starting a company that could truly make a difference in people’s lives has always been a top career goal for me. To test and pilot my business idea, I enrolled in IESE’s SEE, which turned out to be an incredible and transformative experience.

Throughout the program, we dedicated ourselves entirely to understanding our customers’ needs, conducting extensive interviews, and ultimately pivoting our business idea to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) that would deliver real value to our clients. We discovered that ~80% of Brazilians struggle to save money, so we set out to create a product that could help families reduce their monthly expenses. On our MVP, we were able to cut our clients’ telecom bills by an average of 50%, and we received very positive feedback from customers and achieved promising financial results.

These successes gave me the confidence to continue my business beyond SEE and make a real impact on clients’ lives by providing them with greater financial freedom.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? During my time as an impact investing officer at Maraé, I had the privilege of working alongside an incredibly diverse and experienced team of executives, technicians, and community leaders. Together, we launched impactful initiatives aimed at reducing poverty among cocoa producers – a major social problem in Brazil. Our work involved a deep dive into the sources of income and lifestyles of these producers, as well as an exploration of cocoa itself, the chocolate consumer market, and even carbon credits. We were able to develop innovative products that increased Brazilian producers’ sources of income and piloted new business models that will greatly improve the lives of cocoa producers in Brazil. This project was certainly challenging, given its complex nature and the need to lead a multi-disciplinary team. However, it was also incredibly rewarding to see the positive impact of our work on the lives of those we aimed to serve, and the economic potential of our initiatives.

Why did you choose this business school? From the moment I learned about IESE, I felt an immediate connection to the school, mainly because of its leadership philosophy, which emphasizes the importance of making a positive and lasting impact on people, businesses, and society. I was impressed by its dedication to exploring the role of business in creating a better world. This focus is evident across all classes and subjects, not just those related to sustainability, and that is something I extensively heard from alumni and that I could testify to during my experience.

This alignment with IESE’s values and mission was critical to my decision to pursue an MBA there. My primary goal was to leverage my career to make a meaningful difference in Brazil through entrepreneurship, and I knew that IESE’s emphasis on creating a positive impact aligned perfectly with my aspirations.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? During the Summer Entrepreneurship Experience program, I had two amazing professors: Mathieu Carenzo and Mauricio Prieto. They provided me with profoundly valuable insights and guidance as I worked to create my startup. Throughout the ups-and-downs of the entrepreneurial journey, they encouraged me to maintain a sense of hope during difficult times and avoid becoming complacent when things were going well.

I also greatly appreciate how both Mauricio and Mathieu held us to high standards, giving sincere advice even after the program. I vividly recall asking Mathieu whether it was better to accept a less-than-ideal candidate for a position, given how challenging it can be to find the right fit, or leave the position open. His response was both challenging and inspiring: “No, Lais, you’d rather have the position filled with the ideal person. I know you’re capable of finding the right fit.” Conversations like this taught me valuable life lessons about being resilient and not settling for average.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? I had two favorite courses during my MBA program: Entrepreneurial Finance and Human Resources. Both courses have been extremely useful for me.

In Entrepreneurial Finance, we delved into the various aspects of creating and funding a startup. The course was taught by highly-knowledgeable professors, including Heinrich Liechtenstein and Luis Martín Cabiedes, and external speakers, and I gained important reflections on my startup and made valuable connections.

The Human Resources course discussed the complexity of managing people and how strategic decision-making in this area can impact the success or failure of a company. The course was taught by an excellent professor, Sebastian Reiche, and I had the privilege of working with an incredible team, including Mariana Zanetti, Pamela Mello, Leonardo Martins, Andres Ayaipoma, Temitayo Adelanwa, and Abhik Damani, to develop the HR strategy for my company.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school?

Multiculti is by far my favorite event during my MBA experience. The event is a vibrant celebration of culture, with each nationality bringing their own unique flavors, traditions, and presentations to the table. The energy in the venue is infectious, and the diversity of our student body is on full display, with over 50 nationalities represented. Through this event, I’ve not only learned about new cultures and their customs, but also had the opportunity to reflect on my own cultural identity. It’s inspiring to see how our differences can unite us, especially during a time when politics can often be divisive. Multiculti is a testament to the strength and resilience of culture in bringing people together, and I feel lucky to be part of a unique community such as IESE.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Looking back on my MBA experience, I wish I had drawn even more from the knowledge and experience of my professors and colleagues. I would have scheduled more coffee chats, sought out their opinions on my business plans, and offered to help them with their own projects and reflections. It wasn’t until my second year that I began to do this more intensively, and the insights and perspectives I gained were incredibly enriching. If I could go back and do it all again, I would prioritize these interactions from day one.

What is the biggest myth about your school? There’s a myth about the first year of IESE’s MBA program: that it’s so demanding, you won’t have time for anything else. While it’s true that the first year requires a significant amount of dedication and hard work, I found that there was still plenty of room for personal and professional growth outside of the classroom. During my first year, I welcomed my first child in the middle of midterms, made numerous new friends, traveled extensively, and even pursued the goal of starting my company. Despite these additional commitments, I was able to maintain a strong academic performance throughout the year. Of course, there were times when I sacrificed sleep or had to push myself harder than I would have liked, but as someone with a consulting background, I had experienced far more grueling periods in my career. Ultimately, I believe that the first year of an MBA program is what you make of it, and with a positive attitude and strong time management, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Barcelona is such an incredible city! It has a vibrant cultural scene, fantastic weather, and affordable lifestyle. In addition, it offers great support to families, including access to daycare and public hospitals. Living in Barcelona is truly a pleasurable experience.

What surprised you the most about business school? How much personal and professional growth one can achieve in just two years. I have seen significant positive changes in both myself and my colleagues, which shows the transformative power of this experience.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Having conversations with former students was crucial in helping me gain a better understanding of IESE and determine whether it was the right school for me. These conversations gave me the confidence to approach the admissions process with authenticity and transparency, ensuring that my personal values were well-aligned with those of IESE.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Rafael Bernardes, my MBA classmate, and my husband. Working alongside him, I’ve come to appreciate his exceptional organizational skills, attention to detail, intelligence, and empathy. What truly sets him apart, however, are his values and actions.

Rafa doesn’t just pay lip service to the importance of family—he prioritizes it in his daily life, making a concerted effort to be present and loving as both a husband and father. He also actively supports gender equality, frequently compromising his plans to help further my career. Beyond this, I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s helped others by coaching them through interviews or providing support and guidance during personal challenges.

Rafael’s integrity and commitment to his beliefs inspire me every day, and I feel incredibly lucky to have him as both a partner and peer.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

Help Brazilians achieve financial freedom through the impact of my business.

Foster a business environment where women, men and families can thrive!

What made Lais such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Lais possesses three outstanding qualities .

First, her unwavering determination to face difficult challenges. A few weeks into the program, Lais became a mother. This was no obstacle for her to have a solid academic performance with the support of her loving husband (another MBA student) and the program.

Second, her entrepreneurial drive. Lais wisely leverages IESE’s resources to advance a startup project she plans to launch in Brazil upon graduation. She is an inspiring role model for future MBA students aspiring to pursue entrepreneurial careers and contribute to their communities with the creation of jobs and customer value.

Third, her deep-seated passion for making a positive impact on others. Lais draws upon her pre-MBA experience in impact investing to hold leadership positions in both the Responsible Business Club (RBC) and the Impact Fund. Within the RBC, she actively promotes knowledge-sharing on social impact and ESG careers, helping her peers find their own career paths. In the Impact Fund, she utilized her expertise to develop the impact assessment of startups, a challenging and critical task. Lais truly embodies the values of a serving leader that IESE aims to cultivate in its students. I am thrilled to have her as a member of our 2023 class.”

Marc Badia
Professor of Accounting and Control
Associate Dean for the MBA and MiM Programs


“Lais is not just committed and smart;  she is also resilient and always happy to learn.

I believe she will have an impact not just on her community but on a larger scale: as an example to her peers and through the growth of her start-up – Justo+.”

Mathieu Carenzo
IESE Business School.







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